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Priest killed in Colombia

A Catholic priest who was critical of leftist rebels was gunned down in front of a church where he had just performed mass, becoming the latest religious leader killed in Colombia's escalating civil war.

Hilario Arango's murder on Thursday night in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city, comes as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels unleashed a wave of threats and violence against local leaders. In the past few weeks, the group known as the FARC has killed one mayor and demanded hundreds of other government employees and politicians around the country resign their posts or face retaliation.

Authorities were searching for the people who ordered the killing of Arango as he left church. Police arrived at the church shortly after and shot a man dead. Cali police chief Gen. Luis Alfredo Rodriguez said police had shot the assassin, but relatives of the priest told Radionet that police killed Arango's nephew, who was standing nearby but was not involved in the attack.

Bishop Libardo Ramirez, of nearby Huila state, said Arango's murder "hurts our hearts". In April, a priest was shot and killed as he delivered communion in Huila state.

"With these deaths they want to sow panic," he said. "These violent people don't feel the pain of the communities, of the families, of the church itself that has done so much to try to reach peace."

National church leaders met with police on Friday to discuss security measures for all priests but declined to give details.

Earlier this year, the archbishop of Cali was shot and killed after celebrating a mass wedding in a poor neighbourhood. Archbishop Isaias Duarte was an outspoken critic of all sides in Colombia's conflict. Authorities are still investigating the motive for his murder.


1 Jul 2002